Yara Shahidi talks college, her "Black-ish" spinoff and Angela Davis

Hollywood’s next generation of stars has found a young leader in Yara Shahidi.

The “Black-ish” actress was honored at Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood awards ceremony earlier this year along with Issa Rae, Janelle Monae and Aja Naomi King.

Shahidi’s talents were also recognized by former First Lady Michelle Obama, who wrote the young star a letter of recommendation for college. The 17-year-old has not yet said where she’ll attend school, but she did recently reveal that she was accepted by all of the colleges to which she’d applied. 

Shahidi recently sat down with CBS News at an event celebrating the launch of the new beverage Izze Fusions in New York City.

You are just 17 years old and have already amassed a huge platform and have a career on the rise. When you talk to people in your family -- like your mother, who is here today -- what advice do they give you about managing a career at such a young age?

It helps that she’s always with me. I could not do it without her presence. You know, I think she’s the one who reminds me about how I need to take care of myself. She’ll tell me, “Yara, you need to eat.”  It’s just always great to have her there because she just helps me maneuver through the world. And just as a young adult, through her presence and example, I can figure out how I want to navigate through the world.

You’re also going through an exciting life transition into college soon. What are you focusing on as you get ready to go?

Well, first graduating, for sure. I keep remembering that I need to get through high school first. I mean, I’m just trying to figure out what steps I want to take in the future. I think for me, knowing I want to go into sociology and African-American studies helps because without choosing a job or knowing what I want to do in the future, I at least know what will support what I want to end up doing in. So I’m enjoying just finding those opportunities.

You posted an image of you and Angela Davis a few weeks back. What did that moment mean to you?

It was so cool. It was one of the coolest moments. My mother and I were at this dinner and an artist had said she was speaking at the Underground Museum. So we scoured the internet for tickets and finally found the event and was able to go. Just hearing her speech was so reinvigorating. Hearing somebody like her -- who was not only so heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement but is also still so active in this current movement -- was amazing. She was just talking about all the things that so many people in my generation care about that she’s always cared about. Whether it’s intersectionality or how to care for your global citizens and the idea that we should be more involved in world activities. It was just so amazing hearing her speak.

Our dreams will constitute the space in which the people after us will inhabit⚡️Dr. Angela Davis ⚡️ Today at the Underground Museum was, quite simply, electric ⚡️ To be able to absorb the knowledge/advice and energy of the many leaders I met today was not only reenergizing, but motivating. I am witness to the work and love of Black activists and the humanist progression that comes from our movements. To take care of our community and to continually push society to recreate systems rather than reform the type of oppression we endure, will make space for all people and the many intersections of our identities. Thank you to everyone who made today powerful and thank you to my Grandfather for introducing me to the power and vision of Dr. Davis⚡️

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I also want to ask about your show, “Black-ish,” and your forthcoming spinoff. What are you looking forward to in the near future?

What is set in stone is that we want to explore who my character Zoey is when she goes to college. And the way we want to explore it is she’s not going to leave her “Black-ish” family. Just like any other student, it’s not like we go disappear for four years and come back a changed person. Our families are still such an integral part of our lives. 

What I’m looking forward to is being able to explore who Zoey is in such a new environment, because it means that there are new rules or pre-established ways of existing and she hasn’t gone through this before. So it will be fun to see Zoey in an awkward situation, especially as somebody who is usually in control of everything at all times. Those moments will be amazing, and I think it will be cool to see how she transitions when she does come back home.


The cast of Black-ish poses in the press room at the 48th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 11, 2017 in Pasadena, California.

Paras Griffin, Getty Images

Since you too will soon go through a similar experience, would you say there is much overlap in life experiences between you and Zoey?

Not really. I do have to say the one major overlap would just be being a part of a family that is socially aware and has those conversations that they have at home. We have similar conversations with my family. I do think my character does tend to be like me in certain situations and then veers off. What would be the fun if I’m playing someone just like me? But yeah, I embrace the fact that she is, like, my opposite.